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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ironman Silverman 70.3 Race Report

"The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride."  - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Okay, I promise that will be the last direct reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas... but I can't promise that I won't break into fits of gonzo made famous by the good doctor. After all, Silverman is a race around the area of Las Vegas, deep in the heart of the American Dream. And "fear and loathing" were ever present during our weekend trip to the desert.

Of course, in order to participate in this race we never even had to set foot in the casino ridden lizard tank called "The Strip". Instead, we swam at beautiful and desolate Lake Mead, biked the hilly surrounding park, and ran around the suburbs of Henderson, Nevada.

The gods were adamant on me not participating in this race. Days before we were slated to make the drive through the desert, my skin began to feel like it was being eaten by a million tiny parasites. My entire body from my face to my legs was covered in welts which felt like a horrendous sunburn. The bearded doctor that I visited made the brilliant proclamation that I had an adverse reaction to something. Mind blown, I went home and tried desperately to figure out what was wrong.

I chose not to take the medications that the doc provided, knowing full well that the antibiotics and steroids prescribed to me were meant as a placebo only, but would not address the main cause, which is what caused the reaction. I was hoping that whatever it was would go away over night, as we were set to go early the next morning.

I felt much better that evening as I went to bed, but soon began to toss and turn, itch like crazy, and feel nauseous. Not a good start, since a bad night of sleep two days before the race would not reflect well on race day.

The 3 am alarm went off and I was feeling terrible. Every time I got up I got light headed and felt like I was going to puke. At that time I made the difficult decision to forego the race and end my season rolled up in the fetal position feeling sorry for myself. So back to bed I went with a combination of guilt and relief.

Around 9 am, true to form, I changed my mind again. While I still felt like an addict in the grips of withdrawl, I decided to get out to Vegas in a hurry and try to make it to the race. So before we knew it we were on the road driving through the old familiar desert.

It turns out that vinegar was the culprit for my skin rash. It's common that vinegar is used in cleaning and laundry products. It appears as though the use of one of these products in our laundry affected my skin and got worse as I tried to sleep in my bed. Needless to say, all of our laundry has been resoaked thoroughly.

We made it out to Henderson in the late afternoon just in time for check in. It is a surreal trip for an out of towner like myself, who used to frequent Las Vegas in the past for all its charm and revelry, to jump on the 215 and turn away from this despicable temptress, and land myself in a seemingly hospitable suburb. Something seemed not right about that, but that's my problem. I recognize full well that my presupposition is part of my own prejudice, brought about by years of experience visiting a small and unreal subsection of Las Vegas called "The Strip". In reality, the Strip is the exception, not the rule. There is lot's more to see and do in this area besides lock yourself to a blackjack table and drink yourself into oblivion.

Check in was a breeze, as I assume everyone had already done so. It was very nice to have the run gear drop off right next to check in, but we had to head out to Lake Mead to drop off my bike. That process too was very easy. Once we got to the lake it was not crowded at all, and racking the bike was a very easy process.

The sun was still out, and the water looked inviting, so I decided to take a practice swim. This was an important thing for me, since this was looking to be the first non-wetsuit swim for me. While I was on edge about this, it was important for me to get through it as I continue to obsess about it. I won't have a chance to do a non-wetsuit open water swim until Ironman Texas, which will likely not be wetsuit legal. I knew I needed to conquer that fear. So I had a nice little dip in the water, which was very nice and helpful to my confidence. But I was still frustrated with my swim time. Dang, I'm slow.

Sarah got to enjoy the water as well!
After enjoying our tradition of pre-race dinner sushi, we went to bed. I was still feeling the effects of the rash, and my heart was still racing trying to fight whatever it had to. I pretty much resigned myself that this race was not going to be my best. I decided that if worst came to worst, I would jog it in and focus on next year.

Race morning I was still pretty itchy, but feeling okay. Once we arrived to the swim start, we were shocked to learn that it was going to be wetsuit legal. We thought a glacier must have melted overnight nearby. It certainly didn't feel like it would be legal the day before, but something magical must have happened during the course of the night. So I donned my wetsuit and got in the start line. Official water temperature was stated at 75 F.

Swim: 39:50; 101st in 35-39, 704th Overall... Ugh

Rockin' my lucky Vegas horseshoe mustache. (Quickly shaved shortly after this race due to creepiness factor)

Fortunately, my age group was one of the first to begin the swim, after the pros, the AWA wave, and the 35-39 women, so I wouldn't have to make a ton of passes on the bike like I did in Boise. Once they let our group into the water, I noticed that the temperature still seemed pretty warm. But this was in the mucky shoreline area, surely it would cool down once we got out into the depths. After the gun went off and we began hacking away at the water, I realized within 100 yards that there is no way this race should be wetsuit legal. I was swimming in a hot tub with a quarter inch of neoprene to hold in even more heat. Immediately I regretted wearing the wetsuit and had to allow water into my collar every few hundred yards.

Otherwise, the swim was very comfortable. With the wave starts, it's easy to avoid being pummeled. Plus, when you're a weak swimmer like me you tend to avoid all of the aggression. Despite that, the only physical issues I was having was my burning rash under my wetsuit. I had fits of scratching at it, only to realize that I couldn't effectively provide any relief.

On the back half of the swim, it felt like we were facing a current going outward. It just felt like forever getting back to the beach, but finally I made it back in under 40 minutes.Not fast, but adequate to end this year. I allowed myself this last race to swim poorly. This off season is the time to really improve my swim.

But now out of the swim and into transition, this would be the time for me to shine if I could.

Transition 1: 2:54

Nothing exciting here, ran to the bike, got the helmet on, got on the bike, and went.

Bike: 2:52:27; 20th in 35-39, 145th Overall

This was where my race really started. Fortunately, my bike split was still within the top 10 or 11 in my age group despite not feeling my best. I took it very easy on the bike to start because I knew it would be hilly and hot. Not only would it be hilly throughout the national park, but then we would climb all the way out of Lake Mead and all the way to Henderson.

I didn't begin making passes on the bike until we were about 5-10 miles in. At that point I found a rhythm (albeit a conservative rhythm), and gained some ground. This was definitely a climbing cyclist's course, and it was filled with some aggressive riders. I chose not to push it as I didn't want to risk injury or burnout to move from 20th place to 15th. I have had a tough recovery since Boulder, and I'm ready for some off season rest.

Obligatory pirated race pic. Me riding the Vincent Black Shadow (so named for the sake of this report)

The bike around the national park was pretty amazing, but at times a little sketchy, since we were sharing the two lane road with trucks and trailers. At times, a car would pass me only to settle in behind a bike in front of me. I am glad that some of the cars were playing it safe in this way, but it made passing difficult. At one point I pulled up next to a car who was following a cyclist and told them that I was going to make a pass. Fortunately they were courteous enough to let me by. You couldn't ask for a better day though. Perfect weather and not much wind. The rolling hills were challenging, but fun.

After the turnaround, we did get our first dose of wind, and it would be in our faces all the way to the finish. Fortunately, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. This race could be made much harder with a stronger wind and hotter temps. All in all it was fairly mild.

Once we got out of the park and started toward Henderson, the climbing started to become annoying. With about 15 miles to go it started to "flatten" out. But these were false, steady climbs which burned down the legs even more.

Transition finally came, and I was grateful to be off the bike and done climbing. Total climbing was about 4,000 ft by my Garmin's estimates, which is about as much as the Boulder full. Here's the Garmin File.

Transition 2: 3:53

No big story to tell here either. Almost ran out with my helmet on, and then stopped at a porta potty. Ran out feeling pretty good.

Run: 1:50:22

Running out of transition I felt great, which was odd to me. My run had really been poor since Boulder, and I was having a tough time getting it back. But out of transition I began running in the high 6 minute miles to start. Granted, it was downhill for the first half mile or so, but it still felt good.

Essentially, the course is never flat. It resembled an old Nintendo cheat code. Down, up, up, down down, up, up, down, down, up, up, down. Then you get an extra life (or in reality, the exact opposite). As we made the turnaround to start heading uphill the first time, I still felt great, and was able to cruise the uphills at around 8:30 miles. Heading back downhill to complete the first lap and start the second, I could already feel myself slowing. I was able to run at sub 8, but fatigue was setting in.

By the halfway point of the run, my fatigue and sickness was starting to catch up with me. I was starting to struggle to keep pace, and the heat and hills were getting to me. I walked the last few aid stations and shuffled my way through the rest of the second lap and third. My goal became to get to the top of the hill at mile 12.5 and then coast downhill to the finish (without puking). Finally at the top of the hill, I was able to run downhill at a low 7 minute pace and finish "strong". While I didn't have a specific goal for this race because I didn't know what to expect, given the hills, heat, and my general fatigue, I wanted to beat 5:30. I ended up at 5:29. Mission complete.

I was so relieved at that point to be done with this absolutely great season. This training season was long, with two seasons tied together in one, and so it is absolutely necessary for me to take a break for a few weeks before getting back into training. This will be hard for me, as I'm conditioned to keep working, and I'll likely be climbing the walls until I can start training again.

Silverman, while still not the original race it once was, is not a race to be taken lightly. This is not just a end of season jog around the park. If this race is treated as anything other than an "A" race, you're setting yourself up for a lot of pain. I made that mistake this year, feeling a general amount of apathy prior to the race and not being fully prepared, but fortunately I was still able to finish strong-ish. If I do this race again (which, due to it's beauty and challenge is likely to be the case), I will certainly treat it with the respect it deserves. Every other time I have made the trip home from Vegas, I had left feeling exhausted and defeated. This was no exception. But unlike the other times, I was actually pleased with how I performed on the trip.

But now it's time to enjoy a few weeks off, and then begin a maintenance program prior to my build up to IM Texas 2015!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ironman Silverman 70.3 Pre Race

There's this incredible feeling you get when you approach the end of a fantastic season. It's a feeling that may be compared to the finishing of any major project in life and is almost unfitting for such a major event or achievement, I can describe it in one simple word.


It bothers me that I feel this way, but I can't escape it. I'm like a student at the end of a school year just phoning it in until the last bell rings. Don't get me wrong, I'm doing all the training, and I think I'm prepared, but I'm not giving Ironman Silverman 70.3 the consideration it so rightly deserves. Due to the scale of this event, I should not be so careless. However, I am so ready for an off season, and have had such a tough recovery since Ironman Boulder that I can't help but be a little apathetic toward this race.

That said, I know that as we drive out toward Vegas, my attitude will change. It better, or I will be in for a heavy dose of ass handing by this potentially brutal course. One thing is for certain. No matter how much apathy I show toward this race going in, I'm going to be absolutely humbled by the time I cross the finish. I will need to have a lot more respect for this course. Here are the reasons.

  1. This is a harsh landscape. Every time I have been to Vegas, when I would poke my head out of the comfort of whatever smoke filled casino I happened to be occupying, I would immediately be punched in the face with whatever weather extreme happened to be happening that day, whether it be extreme cold, extreme hot, etc. Get away from the strip, and I am guessing that those extremes are amplified. The temperature is for this weekend is supposed to peak at 95, feeling like 99. I haven't been mentally preparing myself enough for that.
  2. This will likely be my first non-wetsuit swim. I'm okay with that, but I've never done it before, so I should be a little more considerate of that. Additionally, I don't do well in the cold. While the weather is going to be hot later in the day, We're looking at low 60's as we begin the race. I'm a wuss, so 76 degrees in the water is still not super warm for me. I'll be freezing my but off around the turn buoy, and trying to stay relaxed.
  3. The bike course will be hilly. While not as hilly as the original Silverman, it's going to be at least as bad as Cabo, which was a constant up and down. I'll need to be solid on my bike in order to be fresh for the run, and there is a lot of potential to over-bike. Not to mention potential wind gusts in the desert along the course.
  4. Did I mention that it will be hot? Well, it's going to be hot. Super hot. Especially on the run. My run has been suffering a bit lately, and this won't help.
Ok, just writing that out started to build up my anticipation a bit. Now I'm starting to have the respect for this thing! But alas, while I love racing, I can't wait for this one to be over so that I can begin to enjoy the off season. I am in desperate need of rest and recovery!

I hesitate to set any expectations for my race because there will be so many variables, including my first non-wetsuit swim, a hilly bike course, and questionable weather and wind. I will say that I hope to finish strong, healthy and uninjured. Unlike Boise, I hope to get off the bike with zero stomach issues. My nutrition plan seemed to work in Boulder, so I'm going to use that to get me to a place where I can get off the bike and run strong. Ideally, I want to finish this race ready to focus on recovery and off season fitness maintenance. I won't win any prizes at this one, except to say that I will have faced another fear (non-wetsuit open water swimming), and finished yet another 70.3. I'll be happy looking back on this race season, and looking forward to the next!